Robert Minor, professor emeritus in the religious studies department at Kansas University:
In the broad history of our world, sustained attempts to form “secular” states are quite new. There’s no consensus as to what “secular” is, either — India, Japan, Turkey and France all claim to be “secular,” but what they mean by that is different from the understandings Americans disagree over when they talk about secularity.
Cultures, even so-called secular states, have usually had dominant religions, for better or worse. And the U.S. is no exception even though, in spite of recent attempts to re-write our founders’ views on the matter, religions and government are supposed to be separate.
Whether we like it or not, whether we’d like to end it or not, whether we’re afraid it’s on the way out or not, our culture is dominated, and sometimes stifled, by a general cultural Christianity. And this cultural Christianity is a conservative Protestant version.
We see this in many of our institutions and dominant lore. Without thinking, we say, “God bless you” as if a sneeze endangers our souls.
We often speak of human nature as somehow flawed in a manner that sounds like those Reformed Protestants.
We build our economic system around cultural Christianity. Half of American retail profits are made because of a season with images of Christianized trees, decorations, cards, mangers, parties, Magi bringing presents, and a well-fed Americanized saint, called Santa Claus, dropping down chimneys to bring gifts to enforce cultural morals on children.
And religious traditions outside Christianity are so pressured to participate in the cultural version that they elevate holidays for seasonal gift-giving so as not to be left out of the merry-making.
Like it or not, that’s how things stand.
— Send e-mail to Robert Minor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Judy Roitman, guiding teacher, Kansas Zen Center, 1423 N.Y.:
Buddhism emphasizes compassion and wisdom. These develop through deep spiritual practice. In Zen we say that you need three things in order to do this practice: great faith, great doubt and great courage. The Chinese word I’ve translated as faith can also be translated as trust.
This notion of faith/trust has nothing to do with intellectual belief. It’s not faith in any particular thing. It’s like trusting the ground to be there when you walk.
Sometimes the ground isn’t quite there. You stumble or fall. That’s OK. In your next step faith is restored. Otherwise walking is not possible.
Christianity talks about this as the will of God. You trust the will of God. Same thing, different language. This is not the same as believing that things will inevitably turn out OK — there’s a lot of evidence that much of the time they don’t. That doesn’t matter. Faith isn’t about getting what you want. Faith goes much deeper.
Where is there room here for secular or sacred? I don’t see it. There’s an ancient Zen saying: “If there’s even a hair’s breadth of difference, heaven and earth are clearly separated.” What is that hair’s breadth of difference? It is exactly separating this from that: dark from light, here from there. Any separation is the act of separating heaven and earth.
Without that hair’s breadth, heaven and earth are not separate. You can step forward, one foot after another. That’s faith.
Where is faith present? Not in heaven and not on earth but in our minds. Without this kind of faith, without this kind of trust we would be frozen. We could not function. Faith is an attribute of mind, as natural to mind as breathing is to the body. It is neither in the secular nor in the sacred. It is in us.
— Send e-mail to Judy Roitman at email@example.com.